It is rather strange how on the one hand most governments want their people to be healthy and spend a lot of money on encouraging it, and simultaneously subsidize foods that may play a rather big role in rising obesity rates.
Subsidies For Fast Food?
Already six years ago an article in Environmental Health Perspectives highlighted the relationship between low prices for unhealthy foods at fast food restaurants and supermarkets and the governmental subsidies of the crops – corn, wheat and soybeans – used for producing these:
Compounding the problem, says Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Carolina Population Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is that fattening foods are supported whereas healthy fare isn’t. “We put maybe one-tenth of one percent of our dollar that we put into subsidizing and promoting foods through the Department of Agriculture into fruits and vegetables,” he says. As a result, the price gap between high-sugar, high-fat foods and more nutritionally valuable fruits and vegetables is artificially large. That means in supermarkets and restaurants, red meats, sugar-and fat-loaded products, and fast foods not only appear to be the best buys but in proportion to even moderate salaries are downright cheap.
Burgers Cheaper, Vegetables More Expensive
Want some numbers? According to a study published in the journal Health Affairs, between 1990 and 2007 the price of a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese fell by 5.44 percent, while between 1997 and 2003 the price of fruit and vegetables, which are not subsidized, rose by 17 percent.
And it doesn’t only happen in the US, it’s similar in the EU and Germany: The government spends tons of money on educating people about obesity and still we Germans get fatter. The only difference to the US is that around here it’s not directly the above crops that are subsidized, but that most money goes to large producers that mainly cultivate these cheap crops.
It’s Not The Farmers, It’s The Concept
I’m not against subsidizing small farmers. These people work very hard for little and have to struggle against farming giants that try to squeeze them out of the market. But why not change where we put the money? As it is now one hand undoes what the other does.
Picture courtesy of Parker Michael Knight.